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What is animism?

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Chapter African Mythologies

The word animism is derived from the Latin anima or animus, meaning “spirit” or “soul.” Animism as a concept assumes that all things are animated by spirits, that there is a direct connection between the physical and spiritual worlds. It assumes that humans have souls; that trees, the sea, the plants, the animals all have spirits. Animism assumes that spirits are everywhere, which is different from the concept of a single god (monotheism) or of many gods controlling various aspects of life (polytheism). Animism in this sense could be called the mother of and the oldest of all religions. Animism is clearly reflected in the mythologies of Japanese Shinto, for instance, with its concept of the ubiquitous kami and in Oceanic mythologies in which deities are simply metaphors for a spiritual reality in the elements of nature. Animism is clearly present in the mythologies of the Americas and is especially evident in the mythologies of Africa. It can be said that three major religions and accompanying mythologies now dominate in Africa. These are Islam, Christianity, and Animism. The dominance of animism does not, however, preclude the existence of deities, who themselves become animating forces in creation. Supreme Beings as creators, earth goddesses, and especially tricksters all play important roles in African mythology.

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